Bec from our Transition Support team has been on both sides at the RCH, having had a heart transplant here over 15 years ago and now working with patients transitioning into the adult healthcare system. Bec takes us through her story and how her mother is one of her biggest inspirations.
Tell us about your RCH journey.
My journey with the RCH is one that began back in 1999. It started suddenly when I arrived by plane, followed by ambulance to the RCH at age 7, family in tow. I was a patient transfer from the ICU of Darwin Hospital, at the urgent recommendation of a Darwin paediatrician who had detected that I was in end stage heart failure and needed to go to the RCH in Melbourne to be cared by the paediatric cardiac specialists.
In January 1993, when I was just 3 months old, a paediatrician first diagnosed that I had a form of dilated cardiomyopathy and I continued to successfully thrive as a child on medication whilst living on the remote island of Groote Eylandt, located half way between Darwin and Cairns in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory.
That was until age 6, my heart function rapidly declined and my parents were informed that I was in the end stage heart failure and that I could be considered to be a suitable candidate for heart transplantation in Melbourne at the RCH. After going through the rigorous tests and assessments as a part of the medical transplant work up, I was accepted onto the heart transplant list, meaning that my family and I would be calling RCH home, for quite some time. My family relocated to Melbourne for the duration of my transplant as required whilst I waited on the transplant list.
It was the end of the 1990’s when I became the lucky recipient of a heart transplant.
Once I received the all clear post-transplant and my transplant care team were happy with my recovery some months later, my family and I were able to return home again to Groote Eylandt. Previously going home to the Territory was something that we hadn’t thought at all possible when transplantation was raised, however with all the right measures in place from specialists at the RCH and at Royal Darwin, we were able to return home; which also meant I was suddenly the most remote heart transplant recipient in Australia. My journey at RCH continued from age 7 until I had finished my high schooling at age 18. Throughout those 11 years, my family and I came to Melbourne for regular check-ups, tests and procedures that was all a normal part of routine heart transplant surveillance and became a normal part of my everyday life growing up.
Some years later, a new chapter of my journey with RCH began in 2011, when I relocated to Melbourne while I was studying at university. I commenced my role working at the RCH in 2011 as a part of the Transition Support Service within the Department of Adolescent Medicine. When I was an adolescent at high school, I had no idea that I would end up working at RCH after all this time and yet somehow, I find myself back here working for the past 7 years in the new vibrant RCH hospital, a contrast to the one I knew when as a child. Alongside my role in the transition team, I work for the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in the Heart Research domain and am the Youth Engagement Coordinator for HeartKids Victoria/Tasmania. I continue to love walking into work every day and returning to an intuition I came to know so many years ago.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s Day is a time where we get to come together collectively to celebrate and acknowledge all the incredible women in our lives. It is important to recognise the women who continue to make outstanding contributions, these contributions take form in a multitude of ways, big and small, which all benefit our greater community and this is why it is significant to celebrate all woman in our community.
Which women are you inspired by (past or present)?
I remember being given Helen Keller’s autobiography at school to read and since learning about Helen Keller she has remained an inspiring figure. Helen Keller has always resonated with me because of the tenacity and resilience that she showed throughout her life. Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind person to achieve a Bachelor of Arts Degree and then went on to publish 12 books. Helen was a leading advocate for people with disabilities, a trail-blazer for her time and even whilst being continually challenged with her own battles, armed with her determination and her hunger for knowledge, she was able to accomplish tremendous triumphs.
As I reflect on the women who I am inspired by, it is important that I acknowledge the woman who inspires me most above all. It may seem cliché, however wholeheartedly there is no other woman who inspires me more than my own Mum (Jenny, yes I’m talking about you). My Mum is one tough lady and whilst instilling many important values in all of her children, there is no one who would doubt the level of strength and determination of my mother, even my Dad will back me on this one. This is a woman who gave birth to her third child, two weeks post my cardiac transplant and still managed to hold my hand while continuing to provide unwavering support through the entire experience, which has remained unchanged to this day. Strength is a trait that I see women display every day around me. One day, I hope to be so lucky to possess half as much strength as my Mother has shown over these years.
What is one of your greatest achievements?
I never saw myself as a great athlete, never a person to just spring into a brisk run and previously I would loath the idea of the suggestion “let’s go for a jog”. I have only ever had one speed… slow. In terms of greatest achievements, I always knew that I wasn’t destined for the Olympics or a career of a spectacular athlete for that matter. My parents and siblings will agree that I was inclined to be a clumsy kid, adolescent and adult. Regardless of this fact, from a young age I grew up being taught that having a heart transplant wasn’t an excuse for anything and you can be certain this meant that I never got out of doing the dreaded school cross country. If anything, having a heart transplant was the reason that I was able to participate. The greatest achievement for me continues to be the fact that I can take part in day to day activities with my peers. I work full time, have completed my university study and recently participated in the Noosa Triathlon with my fellow colleagues as a charity team. I couldn’t be prouder holding those blue participation ribbons, because as long as I am participating that’s all that matters in my books.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would be?
My advice is that there will always be times in life where we find ourselves feeling “uncomfortable”. Whether that is because we must present in front of crowds, participate in challenging activities (school cross country), execute something that we are poor at or even learning a new skill for the first time as an adult etc. These are all examples of times where I have found myself feeling “uncomfortable”. I have since come to learn and embrace that being “uncomfortable” is truly okay. Without challenging yourself, you’re not extending yourself to recognising your true potential ability. I wish I had learnt to be comfortable with the uncomfortable when I was younger! Who knows what we are capable of if we extend ourselves outside of our comfort zones… even just a little bit.
What is your favourite RCH memory?
I have many fond memories at the RCH, both as a patient and a professional. One of my favourite memories was recently, when the Royal Children’s Hospital celebrated 30 years of heart transplantation. It was a surreal moment to be sitting among the group as both a transplant recipient and a member of staff, of which many of the familiar faces were a part of that same team that saved my life some 19 years ago. It was a privilege to sit among the team and acknowledge such a significant milestone as well as the incredible work that they have done to preserve the lives of many children and give hope to their families within the RCH, including my own.